I ran across an article on oregonlive the other day that pointed out that the new BBCOR-certified bats high school baseball teams are now required to use will likely lead to a reduction – steep perhaps – in offense. According to The New York Times, when College Baseball went through the same transition last season home runs fell by 45 percent, runs by 19 percent and batting averages by nine percent. Consequently, earned run averages dropped by 21 percent.
In other words, it’s reasonable to expect a fairly substantial shift in the balance of power in prep baseball this season from the batter’s box to the pitcher’s mound, which in turn could change the way coaches coach and players play.
“I can’t help but think the game is going to turn into a small ball situation,” Roseburg head coach Troy Thompson told The Oregonian. “It’s more like a wood bat game, where pitching is sometimes very dominant.”
I talked to Ashland coach Paul Westhelle about this last week and he didn’t seem concerned, probably because Ashland has built its recent playoff success largely on pitching and defense and has three more quality pitchers again this year in Ethan Schlecht, Jamie Flynn and Jack Carroll.
As far as the offense goes, it’s true that we may see more small-ball tactics this season, but that doesn’t mean that games will be any less exciting. Actually, I think the opposite is true (though I’m probably in the minority on that one). Yes, home runs are thrilling, but nothing electrifies a crowd like a base-runner flying around third attempting to beat a relay throw that isn’t far behind – and that’s exactly what we should be seeing more of this season. That, and more aggressive play-calling in general, as in more hit-and-runs, squeeze bunts, steal attempts, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. Sluggers will still slug. But you probably won’t see too many end-of-the-bat singles this season, or 160-pound second-basemen sending towering shots over the wall in center field. Instead, high school teams must rely more than ever on the fundamentals, and speed may end up trumping power as the most important attribute in a batting lineup.